This week, we have a guest post from the ever-fantastic Melanie Francisco, known in the Twitterverse as @blacklily_f. This gal is one mean beta reader, a drill sergeant of a sprint runner, and a fount of endless online hilarity. A no-nonsense kick in the pants, Melanie is full of snark and sass, and if you aren’t already pals with her… what the heck is wrong with you?
Jill and I were having this discussion the other day, about how our work has changed over time. I know yours will too. I gave it some deep thought, wrote a blog post, edited it and thought very seriously about sending it to Jill. It’s a self-indulgent piece about my emotional state. It seems most of my writing is like that these days. So….here’s something a little bit more serious.
I started writing very young, in the 5th grade. I had a mentor who wrote a play at my church. I was in puppets and I was supposed to perform the work with others. My parents, who were already well on their way to ruining me, had raised me to debate the merits of literary work. I opened my mouth, inserted foot and said something extremely rude. Thank God I had an awesome mentor. He just sat me down and said, “Well Melanie, if you don’t like it, why don’t you write something better?”
Why indeed? So I did. I had a certain set of rules. I had to cover a certain topic. I had to have a certain setting. I had to have parts for all of my comrades. I wrote it over the next week. Sure, it needed to be edited, cleaned up a bit, but I got it done. And my mentor said, “This is good, Melanie. We will do your play.”
We didn’t. We didn’t do the performance at all. It fell through, but my love of writing began. I started writing stories. I started writing science fiction novels. I was incredibly naive. It showed. I wrote mostly about external forces. I had no clue about characterization. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. It was my outlet.
I needed one. Life in my house was…complicated. (I know what you’re thinking, aren’t all families complicated? Shush, I’m sharing here.) I didn’t have a voice at home. My little sister was really sick all of the time with Type 1 diabetes. Both of my parents are visually impaired. My grandmother, who lived in the house to be our driver/babysitter had early onset Alzheimer’s. Problems at home never, ever stopped. Compared to those problems, who was I?
But then something horrible happened. My dad read my work. He called it “wordy”. GASP! I quit. I was thirteen years old. I couldn’t handle it. I left it alone until I went to college. But I got lost in books. Books of all kinds. Literary works, romances, science fiction, fantasy, romance…I read them all. (Yeah, I know romance is in there twice. I read twice as much of it as other stuff. Go ahead, judge me.) To this day I love nothing more than getting lost in a really good book. Especially if it’s one of my own.
But what that complicated home life taught me was that sometimes life is really complicated. And it drew me, when I finally got serious about my writing to epic fantasy. I frequently weave at least five, if not eight story lines together. Getting a good story, good plot twists, in depth familiarity with the whole life-is-not-fair concept I know how to deliver a twist. My mom was an English major in college. She’d wanted to teach high school English so we sat at the dinner table and took stories apart. So I know how to spot a plot hole. I know about characterization. I was ready to begin writing.
My weaknesses are prose and daring. I really pushed myself last year to get over the daring issue. As I’ve gotten older, more mature, I’ve consciously worked on taking more risks. I mean seriously people, where in the world is it safer to take a risk than on the page of a work no one else can see? Be evil. Kill characters. Make your readers hate you. Make your characters hate you. Make your characters have sex with their worst enemy and enjoy it. Write it raunchy. Write it bloody. Write it shocking. Just write it, Mell. My mantra last year.
It worked. Suddenly I had a richer world, a more dynamic story. I had characters hurting, reacting, and going all crazy. It was glorious. (And still my CP hated it.) So this year is about prose. Considering the words I use to tell the story. And just when I thought I knew what that was about, I realized I was wrong. I went back to the drawing board. Scene selection. What’s going on in the story? Why this scene? What has changed? What’s interesting? Now, what are the most interesting words I can use to bring my reader to the edge of his seat? It’s hours and hours of work. I’ve spent a week getting a scene right before. I ask for help more readily these days. And I enjoy it.
Now go back and look at your work and ask yourself, what’s changed? Do you know why? Ask for help if you need it. Look your weaknesses in the eye. Face down your doubt monster. Let other people read it. Be humble. Get better. Love the process. Enjoy it. Life is meant to be enjoyed. Love your work. Treat it as you would a child. Do what is best for your story no matter how badly it hurts you. At the end of the day, you will be exhausted. I am. But you will put your head on your pillow each night knowing you gave it your best. That’s what we all want from life. Just do it.